XCOM 2 War Diaries #6: At the Drop of a Hat

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Previously on XCOM 2 War Diaries..

#1 – The Ballad of Kenzo Kelly                            #4 – Saving Corporal Bluntshooter

#2 – ‘Zulu’ Dawn                                                    #5 – Barbaliens at the Gate

#3 – It’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya

It’s a story as old as war itself – one side looks all but beaten and somehow manages to rise like the proverbial Pheonix. The tide turns in their favour and their victory seems all but assured. But then the fates shift once more as their key general suddenly, and without warning, sods off to buy a house in Barry and gets hooked on the new Dark Souls game. If I remember my history correctly that’s what did for both Napoleon and Alexander the Great in the end.

Yes. Yes that sounds about right.


It’s been several months since Kenzo Kelly and her ragtag band of wayward soldiers went quiet. In that time XCOM 2 has received several DLC updates and had a veritable cornucopia of new mods built for it – including The Long War, which was released the day after I finally finished the base game. I’ll need a breather before I can even contemplate tackling that. As a result the vanilla game looks rather quaint by comparison. But Kenzo Kelly’s Heroes battled long and hard against the occupying alien forces – they achieved too much for their campaign to be denied closure.

And so the prodigal commander returns to the fold, beer can in one hand, mouse in the other, keyboard continually slipping off the yet-to-be-unpacked box of DVDs it’s precariously perched upon. He steels himself with a deep draught of ale and declares it time to finish what he started. Right after he reminds himself what the hell was happening and how this whole war thing works.

Before the hiatus Kenzo Kelly’s Heroes had just repelled an attack on their base. It took some unlikely stealth heroics from 3rd choice ranger Laurant to win the day but the team made it through with barely a scratch on them. The first string squad is now close to invincible, packing an array of powers that the Advent forces have no answer for. The second string is much weaker but boast enough experience to make them reasonably formidable. There’s an overall lack of balance due to a frustrating shortage of heavy artillery wielding soldiers and a ridiculous overabundance of snipers, but nevertheless we should be equipped to finish this thing.

I don’t have long before I have to test that theory in..

OPERATION: STEAMING WAIL

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Such a big explosion for such a small explosive

Starring..

Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Dirty Segei – Sharpshooter
Lightning Ramirez – Specialist
Zulu Hansen – Ranger
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier
Guile – Sharpshooter

I’d carelessly left things in a precarious state – despite my dominance in the field the ol’ Doom Clock was close to running out on us. I’d sent the guys out to a facility in Chile to buy us some time right before I packed the PC in a box for several months, so there’s no time to acclimatise with a softer mission. It’s a rough way to shake off ring rust but there’s no other options available.

We start atop a cliff at night with the base lying before us in a canyon. The two snipers stay on high ground while everyone else drops down and inches towards the site. Our first encounter is a routine overwatch trap sprung by a Big Daddy and a pair of grunts. A second overwatch trap is set off by a Snakedude and another robot. The snake is felled by Sergei but the robot retreats into the fog of war after Guile misses his shot.

Kenzo is still concealed and pushes on toward the base. In doing so she alerts a small army of shield bearers and grunts accompanying a Sectopod. The usual panic that accompanies those massive metallic bastards ensues. Ramierez attempts to hack and immobalise it but fails, strengthening it further. Thankfully Sergei executes it one shot, a ridiculous stroke of luck that just about prevents me soiling my trousers. Bandanaface lobs a grenade in to weaken the remaining group, after which they’re summarily picked off. The Big Daddy reappears as we move into the base, only to be killed once by a Ramirez and Zulu one-two and again by a Sergei and Bandanaface combo after it does it’s Lazarus trick. It’s like I’ve never been away.

Kenzo continues inside to set a charge to blow the place up. A Codex, an Archon, a Sheildbear, a Taserdude and a standard grunt stand between us and a routine win. My ground force wade in and with a mimic beacon taking all the flak they make short work of them. Their effectiveness as a defensive force is best summarised by the Taserdude who charges straight at Kenzo and is bladestormed into a fine paste before he’s even had chance to scream, “oh sweet Jesus was this a bad plan.”

The Doom Clock is reset a couple of blobs, which makes me a little less antsy. Back at base I’m informed there’s some kind of scientist shortage going on. I guess someone forget to order more labcoats. In a bid to increase recruitment by showing how science can be fun I set about autopsying anything we hadn’t yet got around to carving up. If I’d known I’d have gotten a FIRESWORD for my troubles I’d have done the Archon sooner.

I do some Plot Stuff to push us closer to victory when the Guerrilla Ops missions come rolling in and I’m forced to head off to..

OPERATION: FROST HAWK

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Dirty Sergei has taken his name to heart – so much so he’s developed an actual visible stench

Starring..

Zulu Hansen – Ranger
Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Lightning Ramirez – Specialist
Dirty Sergei – Sharpshooter
Bandanaface – Grenadier
Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter

It’s another Smash Up The Network Relay Like A BT Engineer Gone Mental mission. Only this one doesn’t go quite to plan. Oh, sure, we march through the turrets and forces outside the factory housing the relay without much fuss, but when we get inside things get lairy. There’s a Codex inside along with a pair of Archons. My usual quick Divide and Conquer tactics on the Codex fail me thanks to some uncharacteristically poor shooting from both Kenzo and Ramirez. Instead we split it into 2 and then split 1 half into 2 again – giving them a turn with 3 of them to do damage. One of the them empties 3 of our soldiers’ clips while the other Codex and the Archons set about roughing my guys up.

It should be a minor setback but I’d misjudged my timing and left us with 1 turn left to destroy the relay. It’s Desperate Gambit time, so I send Kenzo charging in to hack it with a mimic beacon to distract the bad guys. It works, in that the hack is successful. But a Sectopod comes barging through the wall with a grunt and a Taserdude and puts us in a deeply worrying pincer movement. We’re surrounded, wounded and I’ve had to waste most of my turn reloading everyone’s guns.

Thankfully the one person with action points left is Ramirez, who hacks the Sectopod and puts it to sleep for a few turns to give us a chance.

Their turn sees my luck once again keep me in the game. The Taserdude chooses Kenzo to go after, and once again her bladestorm skill takes him out before he can get close enough to do any damage. Killing him activates her untouchable skill, meaning the shots fired at her by one of the Archons and the Grunt have no chance to hit. One Codex opts to unload a pair of guns, which is frustrating but not damaging, leaving only his partner and the remaining Archon to do actual damage. And once the ball is back in my court I take the Sectopod down along with one of the Codices, an Archon and a grunt. Guile’s pistol frenzy skill comes in handy here, polishing off a pair of ememies and damaging the rest.

The remaining forces get a chance to do a bit more damage before we mop them up. We limp back with 5 grave injuries to my A Team, which really shouldn’t be happening at this stage of the game on such a routine mission. Would this have happened if I hadn’t gotten out of practice in the break? Would it have happened if I wasn’t already several beers deep and wasn’t already convinced I was an invincible warbeast who could do no wrong?

Who can really say?

Me. I can. Yes to both questions.

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Archons can be such drama queens.

I’m waiting on getting enough intel to unveil the next Plot Location when I’m conveniently offered OPERATION: PURPLE SENTINAL which will give me all the intel I need. I send my B-Team in to recover a kidnapped VIP. It’s time for them to shine, I think. This is exactly the scenario I’ve cultivated a B-Team for. If they can’t step up now then I’m in trouble.

I’d like to give you a breakdown on how exactly this went wrong but I failed to keep any usable notes on this one. All I have to go on are capitalised half formed swear words like FFFFFUUUUUUUU- and SHIIIIIIII-. It would appear that the VIP I’d been sent to save was somehow killed in a hail of chaingun fire quite early on. Then after meeting some heavy resistance, including a Deathball and several mind-control happy sectoids, the decision is made is to say, “let’s get the hell out of Dodge – in fact fuck Dodge, I’ve never liked dodge, what the fuck was I doing in Dodge in the first place?” We retreat, living to fight another day, leaving our One Job dead in a gutter.

I’ve had better days at the proverbial office.

Thankfully my A-Team is back in time for the retaliation mission they call..

OPERATION: DRAGON KING

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Remember when Big Robots actually seemed quite big? The name is almost sarcastic now.

Starring..

Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter
Guile – Sharpshooter
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier
Zulu Hansen – Ranger
Lightning Ramirez – Specialist
Kenzo Kelly – Ranger

This one at least starts in a more auspicious manner. We’re almost immediately attacked by a charging berzerker but it’s instantly killed on overwatch before it’s even got into it’s stride. Sadly this is where my effectiveness peaked. As usual I send Two Tap and Guile up to high ground, only this time it’s done too hastily. A Taserdude and a Big Robot are alerted, the former incapacitates Guile and the latter almost kills Two Tap in a single shot. As my most effective soldier that would have been a massive setback. We put both attackers down in the very next turn. Thankfully as a sniper Two tap won’t be getting close to the action after this, but carrying Guile for the remainder of the mission is a pain. And losing them both for the next mission is a blow.

Kenzo goes about the business of rescuing survivors while in the safety of concealment. Of course her cover is blown when one of the ‘survivors’ turns out to be a Faceless. Concealment is all she loses, thankfully – as the beast misses it’s swing at her face and is one shotted by Kelly straight after. But then all hell breaks loose – a Deathball, some grunts, a Shield Bearer, a Big Robot and a bunch of Chrysallids all take to the battlefield at once from different directions. Suddenly we’re surrounded. We’re forced to ignore the survivors and get all hands on deck. A pair of Chrysallids are taken down in Two Tap’s Cone of Death skill while everyone else focuses there efforts on the unsettling massive sphere floating towards us.

As you would. Of course you would. They’re utterly terrifying.

On their turn the alines seem content to mow down innocent bystanders rather than attack my guys. Which suits me just fine: I have no objection to using civilians as human shields at this point. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, when you come right down to it – it’s all about the greater good, isn’t it? Right? And poor old me being shot at does no one any good. So if some poor Joe or Jenny Schmo gets vaporised to protect me from harm that’s just dandy, isn’t it?

I’m glad we all agree.

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Look at it – all shiny and faceless and full of malice. I HATE YOU, DEATHBALL. I HATE YOU SO MUCH.

The mimic we send out also helps us not be vaporised. The Shield Bearer does his reinforcing everyone thing before their turn is through, which I could have done without. And the Deathball does his exploding at everyone thing, which I really could have done without. But on our turn we turn the Deathball into a Deadball with a focused attack from all 6 of us.

It’s a brilliant team assault, but it leaves everyone who isn’t a Deathball free to murder some more civilians and rough up Kenzo, Zulu and Ramirez. It’s an almighty battle – on our turn there are just enough civilians left to claim a victory so if we’re to leave without another blotch on our record we have no choice but to wipe out their remaining forces before any more innocents die. And everyone’s aim is, for once, true – we succeed in wiping them all out before they can snatch victory from us. But for the second A-Team battle in a row I’ve walked away with 5 injuries. And those two missions were sandwiched around an abject failure for my B-Team.

My claims of dominance are starting to look a little premature. But hey, at least no one died. Right?

OPERATION: DRIVING HYDRA 

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I didn’t even know Sectopods could get that big.

Starring..

Snake Eyes Laurant – Ranger
Bluntshooter – Sharpshooter
‘Snake’ King – Ranger
Dirty Sergei – Sharpshooter
Chhoden – Grenadier
Jimmy the Hat – Specialist

After the previous few disasters I’ve no choice but to send in a patched up B-Team. Which worries me – I’ve absolutely no recollection of who this ‘Snake King’ person is, and if I can forget someone with such a memorable nickname they must be poor. I took the soft option offered by the Guerrilla Ops though so I figure I ought to be able to push through this one. So long as I’m calm. So long as I’m cautious. So long as I play this one just right.

“Piece of cake,” I say, cracking yet another beer. “Let’s do this.”

The trouble with the less experienced soldiers is in the lack of damage they deal. The armour I’ve given them keeps them alive for a while at least but even with the state-of-the-art weaponry we’ve developed it takes a lot longer to resolve situations without any big damage dealing skills to thin the enemy herd. And as this is a timed, ‘destroy something in a shop for some reason’ mission time isn’t something I have in abundance.

(Oh wait – it’s Paula King! I remember her! )

Since my last B-Team mission ended so badly I’m determined to get a win from this one. So as my team are making long, hard work out of a Big Daddy, Archon and grunt team I figure I have no choice but to send my stealthmeister general Laurant in to take out the Important Mission Device. There’s only 2 turns left so it’s the only play that makes sense. He takes a beating from an Archon on his way in but makes it to the Thing We Need To Do For Whatever Reason on the very last turn.

This is not the first time Laurant has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for me. But as a surprisingly well hidden Sectopod smashes through the wall into the store one thing becomes immediately, unavoidably clear – it’ll be the last.

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Sergei’s patented, ‘hide and let someone else do the work’ tactic seldom fails.

He never stood a chance. And as the Sectopod raises itself another story and smashes through buildings as if for fun things get even more desperate. As I focus all my efforts on putting the machine down Chhoden, my only non-Bandanafaced heavy, is felled by the still loose Archon. Jimmy the Hat fails to hack the Sectopod and get us some breathing room – is immediately killed by the towering hunk of metallic twattery for his troubles. It’s only due to a string of deadly shots from my cowering snipers on a rooftop – and the surprising resilience of the mysterious Snake King – that keeps it from being a complete wipeout.

So we return at half strength. It’s the worst set of casualties yet. The B-team has got a much needed win, but there’s not much of it left to push forward with. I’m left with 4 snipers, 3 rangers, 2 specialists and 1 grenadier. That’s it. And this is not the stage of the game to be considering blooding rookies.

I need to keep the Doom Clock at bay and send my A-Team (with Elvis replacing the still injured Two Tap) into the ominously named OPERATION: EMPTY FUTURE. They rally to get an easy victory and ensure that the clock will not beat us just yet in straight forward mission that only sees Zulu and Kenzo take damage. It’s a welcome pick me up but does little take us from the precarious position we find ourselves in. Instead of the end game procession I was expecting I’m going to have to take risks to keep A-Teamers fresh and get some newbies leveled up to a position where they can fill in when needed.

Either that or just knuckle down and throw what I have left at The End Game.

But hey – at least it’s not dull! I was worried it’d be dull.

(I miss dull. Dull sounds quite nice about now).

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Zulu looks up for the fight. Any fight in fact. Any time. When this war is over she’s probably going to end up in prison. Then she’ll end up running that prison. Then god help us all..

KENZO KELLY’S HEROES WILL RETURN IN OPERATION: DEAD MAN’S DREAM

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